Mowlem’s Sebring Success (?)
dailysportscar.comThis was always going to be a fascinating challenge for the White Lightning / Petersen team: a full on charge for 12 hours round Sebring…chasing the Alex Job Porsches. Johnny Mowlem fills us in on his adventures – on the way to an excellent second in class. Johnny wasn’t a particularly happy man afterwards though.

In no particular order, we asked him to explain all the incidents and intrigue going on at the head of the GT class – and the problems of racing against the Prototypes too. We began with the racing incident he had with David Brabham in the Bentley.

Coming out of the corner onto the back straight, there’s a large six feet wide kerb on the exit, which has the rumble strips on the first part, but beyond that it’s smooth, so you can run wide there sometimes, to boost your speed onto the straight. I knew the Bentley was coming, obviously, and had turned in a little bit later because he was there. As I was coming off the corner, as wide as I could be, right over the kerb, the Bentley just ran along the side of me.

I was afraid that we’d got some damage, but later at the end of the race I noticed that fortunately all we had was a tyre mark along the side of the car. At the time I called the incident in on the radio, and told the team I was going to keep going, but keeping a wary eye on temperature gauges, and any sense of a puncture. Everything seemed fine, the steering was straight, so I kept going, and pitted on schedule.

Within three laps, the team had seen it on the TV, and came on the radio to tell me that it was blatantly the Bentley’s fault. I didn’t know who was in it, because you just can’t see into those cars. But by the time we got on the bus to go to the podium, I knew it was David, who apologised to me. “Really sorry mate, I didn’t do it deliberately.”

That led to an enquiry of Johnny – what was going on out there, between the GTs and the 900s?

The top boys just go at it, hard at it, all the time – but there’s no such thing as driving too hard. This is racing, they’re just getting on with it, doing their jobs. Tom (Kristensen) was pretty good when he came up to pass you, but he didn’t do you any favours either. Johnny (Herbert) just throws it down the inside, and sorts it out from there on. But the problem is that with the Bentleys, you can’t see who’s coming. Last year you knew it was Johnny coming.

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You do get used to spotting a helmet approaching you, and reacting accordingly. If it’s Emanuele Pirro, you know he’s not going to do anything silly. Philipp Peter understands what we’re doing in the Porsches because he’s got so much experience of them. All the Joest Audi drivers were impeccably behaved at Sebring, in traffic. But by spotting who’s coming, you help them by not putting them in a position where an incident could happen.

But with the Bentley, I can only think that the visibility is just poor. Plus, it was their first race – for the cars and all of the drivers except for Guy (Smith) – and they hadn’t driven it in traffic, except for Guy at Le Mans (in the older car). They weren’t driving too hard, but maybe, as with David, it was slight misjudgements.

Testing and qualifying. There were some highlights, and frustrations, all mixed in, weren’t there?

dailysportscar.comWe’d been right with the two Job cars all week – just a tenth or less in it most of the time. I love qualifying – but maybe we peaked a little too early. In the Thursday morning session, I set a 2:06.9 on old tyres, then a 6.2 on fresh tyres. I could sense something really special for the qualifying session…but I never got a clear lap. I did eight laps in total, I set off for a time on all six flying laps, I aborted three of them, and was held up in traffic on the other three too. I went out late to try and find track space, but that turned out to be the wrong thing to do.

My best lap in the end was a 2:07.6: my best lap until four corners to go would have been a 6.5, but we still wouldn’t have had pole, so I suppose it doesn’t matter.

The Petersen / White Lightning team were happy after qualifying third, but I was gutted. We’d been with the Job cars all week, until then.

Your new team-mates?

They both did a great job. Craig (Stanton) was being careful, as Nic (Jonsson) was too, because neither of them wanted an incident in their first race with the team, and Nic hadn’t driven a Porsche before. They both did a perfect job of staying out of trouble, but we were going to struggle to stay with the Job cars all the way through. Having said that, we were only two minutes down after 12 hours, and we lost two minutes checking / repairing the floor…

The opening phase of the race?

I spent the first 45 mins. right with Sascha (Maassen). The gap went out a little in traffic, but then I brought him closer again. I enjoyed that stint as it was nice to keep the AJR cars honest for a change, like we did at Mid-Ohio last year. I actually took the lead at the first pit stops, as we went onto a different pit strategy to Alex Job.

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On one occasion when I got out of the car Herbert Ampferer and Alwin Springer came by and shook me by the hand, and slapped me on the back. “Good job, well done.” I think they could see I’d been enjoying myself!

After the race when I saw Alex Job, I explained to him that his cars seemed to have the advantage with the initial squirt coming out of the slow corners, and when they put the power down coming out of the last corner. Alex seemed pleased with that description. The Job cars seemed so consistent….

Maybe they had a little more power too, but there will be times when we might have a slight power advantage, as we did at Mid-Ohio last year.

Any other dramas during the race?

I’d just got out of the car when Kevin (McGarrity) had his accident, and the way he went into the wall and the damage to the footwell area, I think he was lucky. I didn’t know if it was Marino or Kevin in the car at first, and either way I was very worried because initially it looked really quite bad. It was a big relief that Kevin is basically OK. One of the mechanics showed me the pedal area of the car. Kevin did very well to drag himself out of there unaided.

The team had wanted me to get back in the car just before the yellow, because we couldn’t find Craig. I was pretty knackered then, and ended up driving nearly seven hours out of the 12.

Other than the Bentley moment, the only other problem was with the floor. A bolt had worked loose, and the wire lock that holds the floor on had also broken, so it was flapping about. They were thinking of cutting the floor off, because you could have a big accident if that comes away during the race, but in the end they removed part of it and re-attached it. It knocked for the rest of the race, and that cost us some time. My best lap in the dark was a high 2:08, but I’d set a 2:07 at the start in daylight, and the track is usually quicker at night.

dailysportscar.comDuring my last stint of the race, Sascha came out of the pits just in front of me, but I managed to pass him before his tyres were up to temperature, and basically drove flat out to stay ahead of him, effectively on the lead lap, to keep him behind…in case a caution occurred. We took the flag together, but because the winners had already passed the line, I obviously couldn’t run round and complete the same lap as #23 had just finished, so we were listed as a lap down. It was really just over two minutes, and we lost two minutes with the loose floor.

No one else except our Petersen car and maybe also the Orbit car could get near them. The Job drivers claimed to be flat out throughout, but really I think they had a little in reserve. It was a little frustrating personally to finish second, but I was really pleased for the whole team as they worked so hard and really deserved a good result. All in all, following on the second place overall at Daytona, it hasn’t been a bad start to the season!

Except that on March 20, the Petersen car was excluded from the results for an infringement of the fuel capacity regulations.

 

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